I Am NOT A Pencil-neck Geek. I *AM* A Pencil Geek. Big Difference.

Beginning with Mr. Tefft’s seventh grade drafting class I have been fascinated with pencils and their sharpening.  I am by no means an expert or total sharpener history aficionado like Mister Stewart or Chris Schwarz, who can regale each other with tales of pencil sharpener arcana in perpetuity (which I have witnessed)  but I am appreciative of the technology, especially when it works properly.

The whole notion that the world of pencils was so much larger than the mundane No.2 we needed to complete standardized testing captivated me.  Between my years in junior- and senior-high drafting classes and my subsequent years as an architecture student, back in the day when we still rendered our plans by hand in pencil on K&E tracing paper, my attraction to both high-quality standard and mechanical pencils grew to an outsized portion.  And, while I am nearly devoid of artistic talent, I loved art drawing classes because they allowed me to obtain and use an astonishing array of drawing pencils.

This attraction to pencils was cemented as a utilitarian habit during my decades in the museum artifact world, where pens are generally forbidden in proximity to antiquities as they can accidentally leave disfiguring stains but pencils are much less likely to cause permanent damage.  For years all of my observations were recorded by pencil in notebooks simply because that was the yardstick for the trade.

Heck, even one of the greatest political tracts of all time was titled I, Pencil.

To this day I use a pencil in the shop far more than striking knives or mortise gauges and the like.  I even special order No. 3 pencils for laying out joinery, the hardness and sharpness of the lead leaving a crisp line that incises the wood much as does a marking knife.  And thanks to my long-time pal MikeM I have a stash of No. 1 pencils and he steered me toward high quality white china marker pencils, perfect for making darker woods.  Due to their softness, sharpening them is a delicate task.

An old-fashioned pencil sharpener is screwed to the timber post immediately adjacent to the door entering my shop.  For years I have obtained and tried out numerous pencil sharpeners, as I am pretty fussy about them and I use them several times a day.  In all these years I have never encounter a pencil sharpener to compete with The One.  The one in Tom’s shop, the pencil sharpener by which all others were judged.  Forget “One ring to rule them all.”  This was important.

On one of my first Wednesday evenings working in Tom’s shop I needed to sharpen my pencil and asked if he had a sharpener, honestly expecting the answer to be “No.”  Instead he led me to a boxy looking thing I think was mounted to the wall.  When I inserted the pencil into the device and started turning the handle I swear I could almost hear angels singing the Hallelujah Chorus.  I had found The One!

Tom’s sharpener was of Spanish manufacture and operated smoothly with none of the grinding sound so typical to school pencil sharpeners, and left a tapered tip that was flawless.  I immediately looked into getting one myself but the scarcity and price scared me off.  Tom mentioned that his had been a gift from his mother-in-law and was a bedrock tool for him as he, too, used pencils in his work.  For years I have been waiting either for  one to come up cheap on or for me to talk myself into spending the money on one for my shop.  Neither event happened and I just “made do” with my ancient Boston sharpener(s) which usually yielded an excellent tip but occasionally produced one that looked like it had been gnawed on by a beaver.

And now Tom was handing me a paper bag and inside that paper bag was a vintage gold-plated El Casco pencil sharpener.  I was nearly speechless.  Really.  It will reside even more prominently than my vintage Boston sharpener on the post, this one will live on the lid of my prized walnut Gerstner tool chest (a Christmas gift from my BIL almost 35 years ago) which sits on top of my FORP Roubo bench.

You just gotta keep friends like that around.